Power of Nightmares


I normally avoid talking about politics here because I don't do it well, but the events of today have left me baffled and depressed. I know that I'm not a US citizen, and so have no right to have a say in who becomes President, but when this particular US President has such a huge and largely deleterious effect on world events, I think everyone has a right to express their opinion. Yes, it's good that turn-out was so high (unlike most UK elections), and assuming that the ballot was fairly conducted, it's good that there was actually a majority this time. But given what I — and many other people — think about George Bush, that forces me to conclude that I have no possible way of understanding the mentality of the majority of US citizens. They might as well be aliens. The minority who didn't vote for Bush (and I know some of you personally) have my utmost sympathy. We only have to suffer the side-effects here, but you guys have to live in the country.

I've been watching the documentary series The Power of Nightmares, which would be hilarious if the implications weren't so grave. The series tracks the parallel rise of the neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. The ironic thing is that both seemed to have started with very similar aims: to halt the perceived decline in morals and the rise of individualism, and return to 'traditional values'. To that end, the neo-conservatives tried to unite the country by building up a terrifying threat to society; in the beginning, this was the Soviet threat, but when the Cold War ended, it became Islamic terrorists (ironically, the former allies of the US in neutralising the Soviets).

Various neo-con commentators interviewed on the programme were very open about the fact that hard evidence didn't much matter — it was just a means to an end, and they had the people's best interests and democracy at heart. I don't think it's very democratic if the people are making their decisions on the basis of lies (or at least absent evidence), but there you go. At one point, they discussed a theory that emerged (I think during the early Regan era) among the neo-cons that all the terrorist organisations — IRA, ETA et al. — were actually secretly controlled by the Soviet Union. The head of the CIA was asked to prove that this was the case (note the wording), and relayed this to his agents. They looked a bit baffled and said, "Well, I can tell you right now that it's not true, because we in the CIA planted the rumour as black propaganda." These facts didn't seem to matter, and they still had to 'prove' that it was true. Does this ring any WMD bells? Remind you of any comments about the 'reality-based community'? As a scientist, this disregard for proof, evidence and empirical data makes me shake my head in disbelief. It's just wrong.

I'm going to have a beer.

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